HELSINKI (Reuters)–A defense dispute between Turkey and Cyprus could endanger European security forces in Kosovo by preventing closer cooperation between the EU and NATO missions there, a top EU official said on Thursday.
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn sounded the warning a day after the failure of internationally mediated talks between Belgrade and Pristina on the future of the breakaway Serbian province, whose ethnic Albanian leaders want independence.
The EU is gearing up to take over responsibility for policing in Kosovo from the United Nations and had sought tighter cooperation between its 1,600-strong mission and the 16,000 NATO peacekeepers who will remain there.
NATO-member Turkey blocked those plans in protest against a longstanding Cypriot veto of closer defense ties between it and the 27-member bloc, with which Ankara began entry talks in 2005.
"Let’s finally move on that issue. It’s a real European problem. It’s hurting the European Union, its citizens and potentially our soldiers and policemen," Rehn said.
"If there are representatives here from Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus, please take my point and pass it to your capitals," he said at an event in Helsinki.
NATO and EU officials are braced for possible violence in Kosovo between the ethnic Albanian majority and minority Serbs. The two sides have sought to overcome the Turkish blockade with informal agreemen’s on the ground governing how the two missions should interact in situations such as riots.
Turkey’s stance has also affected cooperation between NATO’s 40,000-strong peace force in Afghanistan and a much smaller EU police mission of around 150 staff.
Turkey wants Brussels to persuade EU member Cyprus to drop its veto over Ankara’s bid to become an associate member of the European Defense Agency, the body set up to nurture EU-wide defense industry policy, diplomats said.
It also wants to be consulted more on EU security policy, arguing it is already a major participant in EU-led missions–including Kosovo, with troops in the south of the province.
Turkey’s accession talks have been complicated by the division of Cyprus, partitioned since a Turkish invasion in 1974 that was triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.